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Jun
17
2024
Housing

A fire of unknown cause broke out in the northwest-most building at the 52-unit Hawthorne Place apartment complex early Saturday morning, Aug. 12. As a result of the significant damage to one of the eight-unit buildings, and part of another, 11 tenants and families were displaced from their homes. (Submitted photo)

EXTENDED COVERAGE | Fire at Hawthorne Place Apartments

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Around 4 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12, a fire erupted at the Hawthorne Place Apartments, ultimately displacing 11 families and tenants.

According to Miami-Township Interim Fire Chief Denny Powell, the only injury sustained from the fire was an MTFR first responder who wounded their knee during the eight hour battle with the blaze.

The structural damage to the northwest building at the 52-unit apartment complex, however, was extensive.

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Units 115 — where the fire originated — through 122 were destroyed by the fire and its extinguishing. An additional three units in the adjacent building experienced an electrical malfunction as a result of the blaze. All 11 units were condemned by the state fire marshal Saturday afternoon.

What that means for the future of the two buildings on West North College Street — that is, whether they will be rebuilt or demolished — is uncertain at this time; at press time, Hawthorne Apartments LLC officer Tina Lagos had not responded to multiple requests for comment by the News.

A public statement issued that day by the Village said that Yellow Springs police safely evacuated all tenants and their pets while scores of firefighters from several area townships and municipalities worked to contain the fire. By 8 a.m., the flames had been largely extinguished, though smoke continued to billow into the sky . Then, by noon, tenants began salvaging what belongings they could.

The cause of the blaze remains unknown. Powell said that although the fire remains under investigation by the fire marshal, the eventual designation of the cause will likely be “undetermined,” owing to the extent of the damage to the unit where the fire originated as well as a lack of state resources.

“These investigations can cost tens of thousands of dollars,” Powell said. “It’s not unusual to have fires listed as undetermined. Insurance companies might later dig deeper, through tenant interviews, to figure out a cause.”

Powell was certain, however, of how the fire was able to spread so quickly throughout the building.

“Almost immediately, the flames extended into the roof and the shared attic space between the units,” he said. “When that building was constructed [in 1966] it had a flat roof. Later a pitched steel roof was added on top, creating a void space above all the ceilings that’s difficult to vent and get water into.”

Another factor that worked against first responders were the fences around the apartment complex that initially prevented fire engines from getting behind the flame-engulfed building. After approximately 20 minutes spent cutting down the fencing, crews were able to get to the rear.

Additionally, Powell noted that the firefighters were also harried by water supply issues caused by the ongoing municipal water tower maintenance. With one of the two million-gallon towers out of commission, water pressure was significantly depleted.

“All things considered, our guys did a pretty good job that day; everyone was safe and we kept the fire from spreading too much,” said Powell, who, just a few hours earlier, assumed the role of interim chief. 

Powell said the Hawthorne fire was his first run at the helm of MTFR.

The fire which began at unit 115, shown here, raged through several surrounding residences, thus leading the Ohio State Fire Marshal to condemn all eight units in that building, as well as three units in an adjacent building. No major injuries resulted from the fire. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Picking up the pieces

Four doors down from where the blaze began eight hours earlier, Windy Gail poked around her ruined living room — perhaps for the last time.

Water continually dripped from the tattered ceiling and a horrible odor of smoke and chemicals clung to the air. Every step Gail took squished on the carpet.

With her son, domestic partner, guinea pigs and cats all safe outside the soot-blackened shell of her former home, she could turn her attention to salvaging what heirlooms she could. Miraculously, Gail’s vintage “Congressional Club Cookbook” — signed by several DeWines — was only a little damp. Her antique cameras were mostly OK, but her partner lost a sizable portion of his computer keyboard collection.

Upstairs, in one of the two bedrooms, a charred hole opened to the three neighboring units, each more damaged than the last. The scorched remains of 115 could be seen from Gail’s nightstand.

“I woke up around 4:15 to a loud pop and breaking that came from the back. Thinking it was one of the cats, I went downstairs,” she said. “That’s when I saw the flames coming out the windows next door, hitting the trees. It was intense.”

Everyone went outside and Gail’s pets were thrown into the car. Their neighbor from unit 116, was already on the phone to 911. They were sure 117 was empty for the night, but as for 115 — where the flames were exploding through every window — there was no telling where Lucas Shires could be.

Later that morning, Gail told the News that the 20-year-old tenant of 115 was out for the night, and eventually came home to find his apartment ablaze.

Friends and family of Gail were on the scene early Saturday, helping them pack their belongings into a truck bed, and the Red Cross provided them and other affected tenants some relief funding.

The question of where they would sleep that night was answered when the owner of Hawthorne Apartments offered to rent them a vacant three-bedroom unit in the adjacent building — an upgrade from the family’s two-bedroom. But as the number of bedrooms increased, so did the rent. Gail went from paying $775 a month for her destroyed apartment to $920, not including the deposit on the new unit, she said.

For now, it’s unclear where the other displaced tenants are staying, or if some others moved into new Hawthorne apartments.

Efforts to aid those impacted by the fire have kicked off in subsequent days.

On Monday, Aug. 14, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation established a relief fund. According to a press release, donations to the fund are tax deductible, will be available to the displaced residents immediately and distributed by the Village Community Outreach Specialist Florence Randolph.

Firefighters from a number of surrounding townships and municipalities responded to a large fire that broke out at Hawthorne Apartments in the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 12. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

 

Several online crowdfunding campaigns have also been launched since the fire, collectively raising over $12,000 for some of the displaced tenants.

One local resident, Zoe Hayes, has been coordinating more “on-the-ground” relief efforts. She told the News earlier this week that she’s spent much of the last several days garnering donations of furniture, blankets, pillows, kitchen wares and more.

Hayes said the 81-year-old resident formerly of unit 116 was grateful to have a new futon.

“I know what it’s like to have nothing and to try and survive,” said Hayes, who previously spent a number of years unhoused. “I can absolutely empathize, so I’m just trying to do what I can.”

Hayes added that while donations of creature comforts and domestic items can be useful for the displaced Hawthorne residents, she believes gift cards and monetary donations are more needed for the time being.

The News will continue to provide updates on the status of those affected by the fire at Hawthorne as more information emerges. Donations to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation’s relief fund can be made at http://www.yscf.org.

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